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Broken components versus broken systems: why it is systems not people that lose situation awareness


This commentary is a response to Dekker’s insightful article in this issue on situation awareness (SA). This is a concept that continues to excite strong debate but only because of the profound implications for the theoretical foundations and the effects that different approaches have for the work of human factors practitioners. We argue that Dekker’s paper tacitly adopts one approach to SA, and in doing so will inevitably arrive at the point of questioning the concept in its entirety. If SA really is as deterministic and ‘broken component’ orientated as Dekker describes, then we would be in complete agreement, but instead we offer a counterpoint. We apply our distributed situation awareness approach to the key issues raised, answer all of Dekker’s concerns, and offer a useful way forward.

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Correspondence to Paul M. Salmon.

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Salmon, P.M., Walker, G.H. & Stanton, N.A. Broken components versus broken systems: why it is systems not people that lose situation awareness. Cogn Tech Work 17, 179–183 (2015).

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  • Situation awareness
  • Safety
  • Accident analysis